Uptown Landlords Accused of Warehousing Apartments

Council Member Ydanis Rodríguez, Senator Adriano Espaillat and elected Assembly Member Carmen de la Rosa met with tenants living at 78 Thayer Street in Upper Manhattan to make their claim. (Photo by Edwin Martínez via El Diario)

Council member Ydanis Rodríguez, Sen. Adriano Espaillat and elected Assembly member Carmen de la Rosa met with tenants living at 78 Thayer St. in Upper Manhattan to make their claim. (Photo by Edwin Martínez via El Diario)

Nilda Vargas has lived at 78 Thayer St. in Washington Heights, in Manhattan, for over four decades. In the last few years, she has witnessed how the building’s owner has gradually forced out several tenants, only to refrain from renting the 31 vacant apartments again.

Issuing a warning that the city will not tolerate such abuses, Council member Ydanis Rodríguez joined Sen. Adriano Espaillat and future Assembly member Carmen de la Rosa to denounce the landlord, who is apparently using the tactic to kick all tenants out of the building and, by putting an end to affordable housing, maximize his potential profits.

“Despite the fact that many people do not have an affordable place to live, this landlord has 31 empty apartments, totally dilapidated and full of rats, which make them a hazard to the rest of the building’s tenants,” said Council member Rodríguez at a demonstration attended by a number of neighbors and shelter residents.

The chair of the City Council’s Committee on Transportation added that, aiming to prevent apartment owners from using bad tactics to kick tenants out, the New York City Council is currently evaluating a bill named the “Housing, Not Warehousing Act,” which will punish people who own a number of empty housing units and fail to rent them out.

“Landlords like Joseph Noormand and so many others in Upper Manhattan put earnings before people. They use dirty tricks to make our residents uncomfortable and push them to leave so they can rent these places for more money,” he said.

The initiative being weighed by the Council will mandate an annual count of all underutilized and vacant land in the city, creating a record of that information and, when empty apartments reach a certain number, to offer them off as affordable housing, among other stipulations.

Sen. Espaillat mentioned that the scorned landlord not only fails to fix damages in occupied apartments but also owes more than $500,000 in taxes.

“On top of the empty apartments, the ones where people do live are in deplorable conditions. The HPD [Department of Housing Preservation and Development] can fine the landlord, so we are hoping for a sensible agreement in which the city is able to preserve these units as affordable housing. If not, then they must continue to hit him in the pocket with daily fines,” he said, after explaining that it is obvious that the owner’s intention is to speculate with rent prices.

The Dominican-born leader took the time to ask people who may be victims of abusive landlords offering them money to leave their apartments to refuse it and to fight to stay in their homes.

“Do not take anything, because you will end up without one or the other: without money and without an apartment. This is a tactic we know well; it’s the ugly face of gentrification,” he said.

Equally, elected Assembly member Carmen de la Rosa said that the worst part about this case is that the possibility to get out of shelters and have a home is being denied to low-income families.

“Housing is the number one problem we encounter every day, and this landlord wants to turn this into a co-op so he can sell it for more money, knowing that there are people living in shelters who could use those apartments. It makes no sense for this to be happening. That is intimidation,” she said.

John Feliciano, who lives in the building, said that, even though he has suffered a great deal of abuse, he prefers to leave and avoid getting into a long and uncomfortable legal battle.

“They gave me until Dec. 31 to get out, and I am going to do it because I can’t stand being here anymore. They raised my rent from $800 to $1,250 and they haven’t repaired anything,” said Feliciano.

After the press conference, the elected officials, Washington Heights neighbors and activists from the Picture the Homeless organization carried signs and marched to an empty lot at 4849 Broadway, chanting: “Homes without people, people without homes. That is an injustice.”

We attempted to obtain a reply from the landlord of the aforementioned building, to no avail.

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